Originally created 09/30/00

Art institute plans relocation

The women huddled around the easel, studying each cascading brush stroke and curve of color in the painting.

Bea Kuhlke broke the silence.

"Don't do anything else," she said. "Good, big simple lines ... You just don't want to go too far."

The artist, Judy Avrett, packed up her brushes and paints, taking her instructor's advice as she's done for several years.

The easels in the small studio on Telfair Street were clustered around a still life of pears, muscadines and a gladiolus blossom in a crystal vase.

This second-floor room at the Gertrude Herbert Institute is the place where dozens of artists, including Ms. Kuhlke, have grown into their craft, after years and years of turning mundane materials and objects into art.

But there were times when the creative space was busting at the seams and Ms. Kuhlke had to hold two classes at the same time, rushing across the hall between the two.

"That really wasn't fair to anyone," she said.

Next August, the institute will have a bigger artistic space to catch the student overflow. Gertrude Herbert will add another facility to the 73-year-old school. With a $22,500 grant from the Creel Foundation, the institute's board of directors purchased a house at 509 Fifth St. An additional $360,000 in private donations will be used to refurbish the property, said Amy Meybohm, executive director of the institute.

"This will be a real cultural resource that like-size cities don't have," said Ms. Meybohm. "Our goal is to create this visual arts teaching space that is up to date with technology."

Once the two phases of refurbishing are complete, the two-story structure will house ceramic, printmaking, drawing, and fiber arts studios that are currently at the Telfair Street location. Though the floor plan shows a modern, sophisticated art center in the making, some secretly admit the change will be bittersweet.

"My great-uncle lived in this house in the 1920s, and I started taking painting lessons downstairs when I was 8 years old," said Ms. Kuhlke. The Telfair Street house was built in 1818 and was once the Nicholas Ware mansion. The property was purchased and turned into a nonprofit art institute in 1937.

In Ms. Kuhlke's class, there is a mix of experience. Intermediate and professional artists who have been in juried competitions groan, wince and struggle through the day's assignment together.

"I don't think that you can tell anyone how to paint," Ms. Kuhlke said. "You just help them see things in a different way."

Reach Clarissa J. Walker at (706) 828-3851.


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